Opinion

Asia is the answer to Australia’s sponsor crisis

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Bosses at Football Federation Australia are faced with rumours that another major sponsor could call it quits. There may be something of an exodus at the moment but if football wants to reverse that trend then the answer lies to the north.

Sponsors come and go in football, a look back at the shirts of football teams around the world over the past three or four decades is testament to that.

Cups too. As a Blackburn Rovers fan, the English League Cup will also be forever known as the Worthington Cup after that famous 2002 triumph but there are plenty of of other incantations: the Milk Cup, the Littlewoods Cup, the Coca Cola Cup to name just a few.

Now the competition is known as the Carabao Cup with the Thailand energy drink company not paying handsomely for the privilege of having its name linked with English football’s third most important trophy.

There is money to be made in Asian sponsorship and Australian football should be more active on the continent.

There are Asian companies who would like to reach a certain kind of consumer in one of the richest countries in the world, as was the case with South Korea automobile giant Hyundai Motors.

And there are Asian companies who could like to use an A-League, if it was of interest in Asia, to reach Asian audiences. This is where players come in --and they will if the interest is there.

Just look at Japan. J.League team Consadole Sapporo signed Thailand’s biggest star Chanathip Songkrasin in 2017. The J.League’s Thai page on Facebook is just short of 500,000. And the Japanese version? Less than half at 226,000.

Such figures are staggering but then three million Thais were reached by ‘Messi Jay’s’ first training session. No surprise then that Thai frozen foods company Thai Yokorei are one of Sapporo sponsors.

If it is good enough for the J.League, it is good enough for the A-League. Southeast Asian players were specifically targeted to help Japanese football build audiences, partnerships and ultimately revenue in that part of the world.

It helps that Chanathip is one of the best players in Southeast Asia and that he has been good enough to make a difference for his team.

Without regular playing time then commercial benefits don’t last long. There is nothing wrong with signing players who can help off the pitch as well as on it. The key is that deals are done with respect.

Signing top players from Southeast Asia is such a simple and obvious step. Not every deal will be a success. It is fine to fail but with more experience and local knowledge better decisions will, in time, be taken, by both sides.

Southeast Asia can be a parochial place and this offers opportunities. 

There is respect for Australian football and the A-League and there would be major interest among fans back home as to how their heroes were doing down under.

Such interest would have to be capitalised on, would have to be utilised as part of a long-term strategy and would have to be, again, used with respect and if all that happens, something more tangible than interest would follow.

Imagine if there were players from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia all playing in Australia every week. First come the headlines, then the games and then the sponsors.

The FFA should act to ensure that the wheels turn a little more smoothly.

An Asian or ASEAN (South Korea, for example, have both) quota is such an obvious, no-lose solution that would make it easier for clubs. If it is in place for next season then A-League teams have plenty of time to take a look.

Not all deals with be as successful as Chanathip in Japan but then they don’t need to be.

Southeast Asian football is improving all the time. Two or three stars from the region is all it would take to make a difference on the pitch and help ensure in the future, headlines of a sponsor exodus are a thing of the past.